“Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damned perpetually.
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come.”
Christopher Marlowe: Doctor Faustus
You’re on the beach of your dreams, under a sunset that flares with every color you can call to mind, plus a few you can’t even name. You’re listening to music that sets your body and soul tingling with pleasure. You’re making love with an intensity of feeling you never imagined could exist.
“All right, time’s up. Move along there now. Next one, please.”
“Your time is up. We haven’t got all day. You should have done all you need to do by now.”
“But . . .”
“No buts. If you can’t manage Nirvana-like ecstasy, plus a world-shaking orgasm, in three point five minutes, that’s your problem. I’ve got a universe to run here.”
Far-fetched? Not really. That’s where our world is headed. If it can’t be done in a few minutes or less, forget it. No time.
What do you need to slow down for?
I don’t advocate living more slowly for the sake of it. If you want to enjoy life, you need to go slow because that’s what it takes. Strip away enough time and, instead of the image I started this article with, you’re left with a picture on a calendar, a ring tone on your cellphone, and a quick fumble behind the door. The stuff of great experiences? I don’t think so.
Wine has to mature to become great. Cheese needs time to bring out the flavor. Gabble through the greatest poem at the speed of a sports commentator and you’ll be left with disappointment.
Why rush through life? Do you want it to be over so soon? Doesn’t it take time to appreciate its joys and experiences?
- Time to learn. Time is necessary to learn, to think, to reflect, and to internalize fresh ideas. The more you rush, the more you are forced to stick with what you already know.
- Time to think. Time to plan, to prioritize, and to choose how best to expend your attention and energy. Doing anything in haste increases the risks of missing key elements, making needless mistakes, and wasting effort.
- Time to enjoy. Rushing through an experience robs it of most of its value. Gobbling down a fine meal, leafing through a work of literature with more than half your mind elsewhere, allocating 10 seconds to see the sunset. You might as well not bother.
- Time for others. It’s not only unpleasant and callous to deny the people close to you your time and attention, it’s downright rude. Why do so many relationships break down nowadays? My bet is that those involved simply don’t allocate enough time to spend together, learning how to enjoy one another’s company.
- Time to be creative. You need time to reflect and see the links between items or areas of knowledge. The human brain doesn’t work well with disconnected ideas or pieces of information. In all those “gaps” where they appear to be doing nothing at all, the world’s outstanding creative minds are hard at work reflecting, ruminating, “noodling” with odd ideas—tinkering with patterns and unexpected connections. What you see as the result is a mental iceberg: nearly all the activity that brought it about is hidden below the surface.
- Time just to be. This is the only life you have. How much of it have you missed already because your attention and energy were elsewhere? How much will you still miss, because your days are so filled with activities that there’s no space left to just to live?
Money isn’t a substitute for time. However much you make, without time you can’t spend it or appreciate what you spent it on. Nor is wealth a substitute for love. And making more quick profits is definitely no substitute for true business success.
How much time do you really need?
How much of other people’s time are you worth? A few minutes? An hour? A day? A year? How long should they take to appreciate the full flavor of who you are as a colleague or a person? Would giving you less time than that mean they sold you short?
Fine, so that’s how much of their time you believe that you’re worth. Now, how much of your time should you give them?
Time is the magic ingredient. Take it away and what’s left is virtually worthless. Rushed, frantic living is no living at all.
Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, and its companion site Slower Living. His recent articles on similar topics include Why a great deal of writing about work/life balance is sadly off the point and Counting your days: A cautionary tale and an idea to get life into perspective. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.